Benjamin Franklin Darrell, African-American schoolteacher and principal in Dallas, son of Ben and Jane Darrell, was born in Winchester, Franklin County, Tennessee, in August 1863, as the sixth of seven children. After receiving an early education in local schools, Darrell attended Fisk University in Nashville, receiving both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. While at Fisk, he joined the internationally-famous Jubilee Singers, which enkindled a lifetime devotion to the vocal arts. Before moving to Dallas, Darrell met his wife Amanda, to whom he was married for almost twenty years. Though the couple did not have children of their own, Darrell arrived in Dallas with a firm commitment to uplift the education of Dallas’s African-American children.
After teaching in Tennessee briefly, Darrell moved to Dallas in 1899, where he found employment as a teacher at Dallas’s Colored School Number One, later renamed the Wright Cuney School. During his time as a schoolteacher, Darrell taught a wide array of subjects, including algebra, psychology, grammar, and bookkeeping. He also put his lifelong passion for music, as well as his “rich, tenor voice,” to work while conducting the school’s choir at special occasions such as commencement ceremonies. In 1907 Darrell entered the administrative ranks, becoming principal of the Wright Cuney School, a position he held until his death in 1919. One of Darrell’s most significant contributions came with his pioneering work in the area of adult education, as he annually taught the night school for African-American adults offered at the Colored High School.
One Dallas Morning News reporter noted the zeal with which Darrell approached the endeavor, saying, “He is assiduous in his work and says that the classes are growing in size each year and that there are many of the older men and women who return year after year to get further instruction and to become more proficient.” In the face of imposing odds, commitment to the educational well-being of young and old alike marked the career of Darrell. As another author put it, through programs such as the night school, “Darrell and others helped to build a matrix for the education of the black man.”
Benjamin Franklin Darrell died in his Dallas home at 3025 State Street on March 27, 1919. In 1923 the Colored School No. 2, located at Hall and Cochran streets, was renamed B. F. Darrell Elementary in his honor. Although it closed in 1969, in 1971 another school of the same name opened at 4730 Lancaster Road honoring the pioneering African-American educator. The school was closed by the DISD in 2009, and in 2011 B. F. Darrell Elementary became the site for the new Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at B. F. Darrell, an all-boys magnet school instructing 200 students from grades six through nine.
In addition to his educational achievements, Darrell was also an enthusiastic member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he led the Sunday school and helped out with choir duties. Darrell was not the only noteworthy member of the church, however. In fact, he was not even the only member to have a Dallas public school named after, as the church’s membership included other Dallas figures such as John P. Starks, Clarence F. Carr, Julia C. Frazier and Charles Rice, who enjoyed the same honor. Dr. Marcellus C. Cooper, the first African-American dentist in Dallas, served as one of the pallbearers at Darrell’s funeral. Darrell was also a member of the 707 Frederick Douglas Temple, the local Black Masonic Lodge chapter in Dallas. He is buried at the L. Butler Nelson Cemetery, which is fittingly located next to Lincoln High School.